By: Barry Vitcov
“I’d like to purchase a replacement battery for my pacemaker,” said the short, white-haired, slightly bent over woman with inquisitive green eyes. She stood at Saul Gold’s battery kiosk in the St. James Square Mall with a closed-lipped smile waiting for service. No other customers were around, and Saul wasn’t exactly sure how to respond.
Gold’s Battery, with its slogan “You’ll get a charge from us!” prominently displayed over each of its six sides, was situated in the mall’s busiest section. Saul’s father Abe, who began the business almost fifty years before retiring and turning over all operations to his son, paid a premium for each of his thirty-seven kiosks in the best mall locations. The St. James location was the first and the one that Saul personally ran several times a month when he wasn’t overseeing the family-owned business from corporate headquarters.
“We carry almost every imaginable battery for small items such as watches, cell phones and smoke alarms, but I don’t believe you can purchase a pacemaker battery separate from the pacemaker. It’s the first time I’ve heard of such a thing.”
“You’re Abe Gold’s son, aren’t you?” asked the elderly woman. “Are you Abe? You look just like your father. He always took such good care of me.”
Saul was intrigued. Who was this kind-looking, trim lady wearing a light blue knit dress, pearls, matching pearl earrings, and an alabaster flower broach on her left shoulder? From behind the counter, Saul towered over her with his disheveled hair, three-day beard, and wrinkled, white linen shirt with sleeves rolled up unevenly. Here was a mismatched pair with someone in common, and Saul wondered what the backstory might be.
Saul asked, “You knew my father?”
“Oh, yes, we were friends for many, many years. In fact, we both graduated from Washington High School in 1955. And here I am almost 65 years later pretending to need a battery for my pacemaker. Your father always took good care of me. By the way, your father was an impeccable dresser. He always wore a coat and tie.”
“Yes, my father was a formal person. He was definitely old-school when it came to business. Did he really sell you a pacemaker battery?” asked Saul.
“Not really, but he took care of me in other ways. I was just trying to get your attention. I don’t even have a pacemaker, but, who knows, it could happen.”
Now Saul was even more curious. Saul knew his father to be a hardworking realist always trying to make a good living, but not much of a family man. Saul’s mother died from a brain embolism when Saul was five. He was an only child and was raised by various relatives, much of the time by Aunt Rose, until he was ten. That’s when he began accompanying his father to work every day, both after school and on those many weekends when Abe worked. “Field trips,” as his father referred to outings with aunts, uncles, and cousins who took him to museums, fairs, picnics, movies, and a variety theatrical performances. His father rarely went with them. Abe always begged off saying he had work to do.
The young man who regularly worked the kiosk approached. Saul welcomed the opportunity to leave the business in his hands, and turning to the woman he asked, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee or tea so that we can continue this conversation?”
“That would be lovely. By the way, my name is Evelyn.”
They walked over to a nearby Festival of Bagels and Saul purchased a black coffee for himself and a pot of mint tea for Evelyn. “Mint tea in the afternoon is a real pepper-upper,” said Evelyn. “I have some almost every day around 3:00, and often with some sort of nosh.”
Saul asked, “Would you like a bagel or a cookie? They also have some very good apricot rugalach here.”
“No, thank you, I’m fine with the tea.”
They sat quietly for a moment tending to their beverages, when Saul broke the silence. “So, you really didn’t want a pacemaker batter; you wanted to talk about my father.”
Evelyn replied, “I don’t know why I asked for a battery. It just popped into my head. Sometimes I use a little white lie to begin a conversation. Some of my friends say it’s an endearing quality. I’m not so sure, but it’s been habit I’ve been unable to break.” Evelyn sipped at her tea. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while. I know that Abe recently passed away and I wanted to pay my respects and tell you something that your father made me promise not to reveal until after he was gone. It’s about your Aunt Rose.”
Saul asked, “Is that a fib to get my attention?”
Saul and his father did not have a close relationship, but he didn’t think that his father kept secrets. His memories of his mother and father together were vague. His father worked long hours and his mother took care of the home. He remembered a few weekends when his mother and father purchased thick deli sandwiches from the corner market by their small apartment and they went to a park and picnicked. There were no events that stuck out as special except for small birthday celebrations or Seders at Aunt Rose’s. Aunt Rose was his mother’s sister, and she passed away a few years after his mother. It was whispered that she died of heartbreak over his mother’s death. Aunt Rose died, according to other relatives, a lonely woman who had never married and lived an unfulfilled life. Saul never knew what was meant by “unfulfilled.” He sat looking at Evelyn, who sipped at her mint tea.
“No, not another fib. The truth is that your father wanted me to contact you after he passed because there is a secret he could not reveal. He feared harming you.”
Saul couldn’t imagine what secret might harm him, and immediately wondered if his father might have been in some sort of relationship with Evelyn. He simply asked, “Were you and my father close in ways he didn’t want me to know?”
Evelyn smiled, “Oh, no. Your father loved your mother, and, when she passed, I don’t think he was ever with another woman. No, it’s not about your father and me. It’s about your Aunt Rose and me. We are the ones who were close.”
“But I never saw you at my Aunt Rose’s house.” How could this have been kept a secret? And why did his father keep this from him”
“It was a different time back then. I stayed away when you were at your Aunt’s. To other’s we were simply old maid roommates. But your father knew, and he helped support us emotionally and financially.” Evelyn paused. It appeared she had more to say, but she waited for the news to sink in with Saul. “Abe was very special to us. And he was very protective of you. It was a time when he thought secrets and protection were important.”
Saul was taken aback. These were more progressive times. His father could have given him this news before he passed. His father knew that he was a liberal thinker. “I’m certainly not ‘harmed’ at all. In fact, the only ‘harm’ I’m feeling is that my father couldn’t bring himself to tell me.”
“In spite of Abe’s support, he was still very old-fashioned. Talking about two women in love made him uncomfortable.”
“Is that all he wanted you to tell me?” asked Saul.
Evelyn’s smile broadened, “No, there’s something else that Abe didn’t even know. When Rose and I first got together in the 70’s, we had no permanent jobs and needed a car to secure better ones. Your father bought us a car.”
“My father was a generous man. I’m not surprised.”
“He was. And his generosity overwhelmed Rose and me. That’s where my first fib about needing a pacemaker may have come from. He bought us a brand-new AMC Pacer.”
Saul chuckled and scratched at his beard. “He did? That was one very ugly car!”
“Ugly, yes. But brand new. I still have it. It has less that 5,000 miles on it. We used it until we could purchase our own, a nice red Ford Pinto. We tried to give it back to your father, but he wouldn’t have it. He told us to do whatever we wanted with it. So, your Aunt and I decided to keep it in storage until Abe passed and then give it to you. I think it’s actually become so sort of collector’s item.”
“Evelyn, I’m absolutely floored by all of this. We need to spend more time chatting. How about if you come to dinner tomorrow night? My wife and I would love to have you.”
“That would be lovely,” Evelyn replied with her kind smile and twinkling eyes.
“May I introduce you as my Aunt Evelyn?”
“That, too, would be lovely.”